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Nicole Hart - Treasure

Blues Leaf Records

Run Time: 49:39

Nicole Hart has been hanging out with all the right people. Since the release of Live! Hart has been playing with and making friends with a bunch of blues heavyweights up and down the East Coast. Albert Castiglia, Gina Sicilia, Dave Gross, Gina Fox, and many more can all number Hart and her NRG Band as close friends. Through hard work and non-stop touring Hart landed a deal with Florida blues imprint Blues Leaf Records for her first major label release entitled Treasure. Hart’s impassioned delivery backed by her songwriting partner/husband Lance Ong's sensational keyboard work; this band’s stock continues to rise. Hart enlists veteran Grammy award winning producer Jack Kreisberg for this release.

This album straddles between contemporary blues, jazz, and a modern take on retro R&B and rock & roll. With three Ong/Hart originals, the album seems a little covers laden. I was hoping and expecting more of their dynamic writing abilities. As they have the ability to turn small everyday phrases into poignant statements about heartaches, troubles, and the good passions that are life. Of those three songs, the title track is a revisit to a song from last year’s Live! Album that gets a fine reworking. This version in the studio gets a little more fine tuned direction than the original and allows Hart to show off her natural talent as a dynamic vocalist. “I Just Want to Cry” is a beautiful lounge jazz feel that oozes heartaches by the number. Hart slips into her slinky, smoky voice and turns up how modern day vocal jazz should be done. Ong’s piano layers underneath gives and takes with Hart’s vocals, much like lovers do in the heat of passion. This one is a beautiful number. “The Other Side of the World” has a similar smoky lounge jazz appeal to it as well and continues to pull out Hart’s softer side in vocal nuance.

Of the covers, Hart and label mate Albert Castiglia pull off a beautiful Percy Mayfield blues ballad “You Were Lyin’ To Me.” Hart, whom I’ve heard sing in backing vocals before, has a fine ear for wrapping around other vocalists’ voices and adding a layer of texture that only a well-seasoned vocalist can do. Here, her and Castigilia do that in a “look into each others eyes” duet that is both sexy and cool. Castigilia’s signature guitar work is ever present in the beginning, which makes this one an instant radio friend for all the blues dj’s out there. Hart also dips into some Sun Records-era rocking-styled numbers “Heart Trouble” and “Gin House Blues” that are fun, especially when she turns on that whiskey drinker chagrin styled delivery that is a pure account of her feminine sass. Hart even takes a shot at reggae with “Singing the Blues.” Hart’s vocal phrasing gets a little distracting for me on this one. Lance Ong’s funky keyboard work keeps this one intact for me.
Though sometimes a little unbalanced or as if the band and singer are trying a bit to hard to show their stuff, this album is another fine step in the right direction. The bright moments far outweigh some of the moments that seem a little rough. Unlike their last release, Nicole Hart & Company show some flairs for genres that were unheard of before. She really could take over vocal jazz and really work it to her advantage and then on the other hand, she could be a blues and R&B belter out there with her fellow contemporary blues women. With a vocalist who can practically do anything she wants and who helps write her own material along with a tight, hard working band; the Nicole Hart Band is ready for the next level of national stardom. Just where the next step falls lies solely in their band leader’s discretion and with the fine talent she has with her and behind her that decision will purely be music to the ears.

Reviewed by Ben "the Harpman" Cox. Visit his website Juke Joint Soul

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